Marlbrough s'en va-t-en guerre
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Marlbrough s'en va-t-en guerre or Malbrook s'en va-t-en guerre ("Marlborough Has Left for the War" also known as Mort et convoi de l'invincible Malbrough, "The Death and Burial of the Invincible Marlbrough") is one of the most popular folk songs in French. The burlesque lament on the death of John Churchill, 1st Duke of Marlborough (1650–1722) was written on a false rumour of that event after the Battle of Malplaquet in 1709, the bloodiest battle of the War of the Spanish Succession. It tells how Marlborough's wife, awaiting his return from battle, is given the news of her husband's death. It also tells that he was buried and that a nightingale sang over his grave.
For years it was only known traditionally, and does not appear among the many anecdotic songs printed in France during the middle of the 18th century. Suddenly around 1780 it burst out and became the rage. For instance, the tune concludes a Sonata (in D-major) for Viola d'amore and Viola composed by Carl Stamitz in 1780 while in Paris. And it happened that when Louis XVII of France was born in 1785 (son of Louis XVI and Marie Antoinette and heir to the French throne) he was nursed by a peasant nicknamed Madame Poitrine. The nurse, whilst rocking the royal cradle, sang Marlborough s'en va-t-en guerre and the dauphin, it is said, opened his eyes at the name of the great general. The name, the simplicity of the words, and the melodiousness of the tune, interested the queen, and she frequently sang it. Everybody repeated it after her, including the king. The song was sung in the state apartments of Versailles, in the kitchens and in the stables – it became immensely popular.
From the court it was adopted by the tradespeople of Paris, and it passed from town to town, and country to country. It became as popular in England as in France. Johann von Goethe came to hate Marlborough simply on account of the prevalence of the tune he encountered during travels in France. It also became popular in Spain due to the Bourbon dynasty's influence on Spanish nobility. The name of Marlborough was modified to an easier to pronounce Mambrú. It was sung by children while playing Hopscotch (Rayuela). The Spanish guitarist and composer Fernando Sor (1778–1839) created a series of variations for guitar on the theme. It then spread to Latin America.
The rage endured for many years, slowly fading after the French Revolution, although, it is said that Napoleon liked to hum the tune, for instance when crossing the Memel (June 1812) at the beginning of his fatal Russian campaign.
In popular culture
The song is referenced in Fyodor Dostoyevsky's novel Crime and Punishment, where Katerina Ivanovna Marmeladova tries to make her children sing the popular Russian version in public shortly before her death.
The song is referenced in Leo Tolstoy's novel War and Peace, where Prince Nikolai Bolkonsky sings the first verse of the song to his son Prince Andrei after hearing Russia's military strategy (Part First, Chapter XXIII).
The song is referenced in Patrick O'Brian's novel The Fortune of War in chapter 8 when Captain Jack Aubrey hears it being sung by French soldiers in a bar in a hotel from which Aubrey helps Stephen Maturin and Diana Villiers escape.
An operetta produced in Paris in December 1867 with Suzanne Lagier borrowed the title of the song. One act each was written by Georges Bizet, Léo Delibes, Émile Jonas and isidore Legouix (see Classical music written in collaboration).
The song has been translated into several languages. The English version shown below was written by the American poet Henry Wadsworth Longfellow in the 19th Century.
The Swedish version, Mellbom, is in certain academic circumstances (mainly at Östgöta Nation) traditionally combined with a humoristic pantomime describing the plot. Traditionally the fourth officer in the funeral parade, the one who was "left nothing to carry", performs in the nude. The Mellbom pantomime was invented by Måns Hultin, a member of Östgöta Nation, 1856. Due to the large number of female students at the present day Nation, Mellbom shows have grown rare during the last 20 years.
|Marlbrough s'en va-t-en guerre,
mironton, mironton, mirontaine,
|Mambrú se fue a la guerra,
¡qué dolor, qué dolor, qué pena!,
|Marlbrough zieht aus zum Kriege,
Die Fahne läßt er wehn;
|Marlbrook the Prince of Commanders
Is gone to war in Flanders,
Mieczyslaw Kolinski,"Malbrough s'en va-t-en guerre: Seven Canadian Versions of a French Folksong"Yearbook of the International Folk Music Council, Vol. 10,(1978), pp. 1–32
- Wills, William Henry (1860). Poets' Wit and Humour. Ward, Lock and Tyler. p. 288.